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Trump Defies Nevada Directive as Thousands Gather for Indoor Rally

2020-09-14 05:49:00

HENDERSON, Nev. — Thousands of Trump supporters, the vast majority of them forgoing face masks, packed inside a manufacturing plant on Sunday night in a Las Vegas suburb, where President Trump brashly ignored a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to under 50 people.

There were no signs of any attempts at social distancing inside the venue. Attendees wearing red MAGA caps sat in white folding chairs crammed together on the floor of the Xtreme Manufacturing plant, which said on its website that it had “restricted meetings and gatherings to no more than 10 people in large areas.”

In his remarks, Mr. Trump unloaded his regular, inaccurate onslaught against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., falsely accusing him of waging a “dangerous war on the police” and claiming that “he’s shot and everybody knows it.”

The raucous crowd appeared to relish the performance, at one point chanting “all lives matter” when a protester tried to disrupt the president’s speech.

Hoping to capitalize on Mr. Biden’s vulnerability with Latino voters in the state — he won just 17 percent of the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses, compared with 50 percent for Senator Bernie Sanders — Mr. Trump claimed that his Democratic rival would be a “disaster for Hispanic-Americans.”

Earlier in the day, the president, who entered the political arena by calling Mexicans “rapists” who were bring drugs and crime into the country, held a round table with Latino small-business owners. At the rally, he claimed: “Some say, ‘Call us Latino.’ Others say, ‘Call us Hispanic.’ Others say, ‘Call us whatever the hell you want. We love you.’”

The campaign’s decision to hold Sunday’s rally indoors came after two outdoor rallies in the state were scuttled, one because the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority informed the tenants who lease the hangar there that the event was in violation of the state directive limiting gatherings to under 50 people. The campaign then vetted five different outdoor venues, all of which were blocked by the governor, according to an administration official familiar with the planning. It settled on the indoor manufacturing plant as a last resort, adding extra ventilation and keeping doors open.

Defending the decision to gather supporters inside in the middle of a pandemic, Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said in a statement, “If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.”

On Sunday night, the president pitched his event as a form of entertainment, while barely acknowledging that he was headlining a rally indoors for the first time since June 20, when he was greeted in Tulsa, Okla., by a stadium that was more than half empty. He also made no mention of the pandemic’s death toll, even as it continues to kill hundreds of Americans a day.

“What do we have?” Mr. Trump said, telling everyone to settle in and get comfortable for the evening. “Football’s boring as hell.”

But the real headline of the evening was the venue, more than the content of the president’s counterfactual stump speech.

“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices, and put their neighbors before themselves. It’s also a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.”

As of Sunday evening, there had been at least 73,648 cases and 1,454 deaths in Nevada since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. At least 12 new coronavirus deaths and 405 new cases were reported in the state on Sept. 12.

Weeks after the Tulsa rally, the city’s top health official said a surge in coronavirus cases in the area was probably connected to the event.

Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that “every rally turned super-spreader event Donald Trump decides to hold serves as another reminder to Americans that Trump still refuses to take this pandemic seriously and still doesn’t have a plan to stop it, even after nearly 200,000 deaths and untold economic damage.”

Onstage, Mr. Trump called Mr. Sisolak a “hack” and told his supporters toward the end of his remarks, “If the governor comes after you, which he shouldn’t be doing, I’ll be with you all the way.”

In interviews, several attendees scoffed at the idea that there was any personal risk involved in attending a crowded, indoor event. Some called the coronavirus a hoax, and one man wore a T-shirt that announced: “Social-ism distancing.” Another Trump supporter outside the venue held a sign shaped like the president’s head painted with the message: “Media is the virus.”

Hundreds of supporters who could not get into the venue stood on big-rig trucks to watch Mr. Trump’s speech on a Jumbotron outside, where dozens wore T-shirts and sweatshirts with a giant “Q” emblazoned on the front, a reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory the president and senior administration officials have refused to condemn.

Steven Wright, a 42-year-old construction worker, said he did not hesitate to come to the rally with his wife and teenage children.

“We can’t stay at home scared all the time forever,” he said, moments before entering the building without a mask. “This is the most exciting thing we’ve been able to do in months. He’s giving us the kind of leadership we want, better than anyone else.”

Jennifer Medina reported from Henderson, and Annie Karni from Washington.


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